The Union Health Ministry has asked chief secretaries of all states and Union Territories to increase Covid-19 testing for early identification and prevention of possible surge of Omicron variant (SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529 is named Omicron) Covid-19 infections in the country. The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the variant, first reported from South Africa, as a new Variant of Concern (VoC).

In a letter to chief secretaries on November 27, Rajesh Bhushan, Union Health Secretary, wanted states to utilise the financial support provided by the Centre to augment health infrastructure to ensure timely delivery of treatment in case of infections.

The secretary said that as a proactive step, the Centre has already placed countries where Omicron has been found in the category of 'At-Risk' for additional follow-up measures for international travelers from these countries. “ln view of the possible threat that this VoC can pose to the nation, it is imperative that intensive containment, active surveillance, increased coverage of vaccination and Covid appropriate behaviour be enforced in the field in a very proactive manner to effectively manage this VoC”, the letter said.

Bhushan noted that overall testing as well as proportion of RT-PCR tests have declined in some states. Stating that ample testing infrastructure needs to be operationalised to tackle any surge due to this mutated virus, he said that in the absence of sufficient testing, it is extremely difficult to determine the true level of infection spread. “States must strengthen testing infrastructure and strictly implement testing guidelines”.

The health ministry also wanted continued monitoring of "hotspots". “ln all such hotspots, saturation testing and sending of positive samples quickly for genome sequencing to designated Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) labs must be ensured in collaboration with Department of Biotechnology and National Centre for Disease Control. States should keep a close check on the emerging trend of cases and positivity in an area and quickly delineate hotspots for effective containment of Covid-19. States should aim at achieving positivity rate below 5% while focusing on increasing the number of tests and share of RT-PCR tests to aid in early identification,” the letter said. The ministry also wanted states to significantly increase sampling from the general population/community for genome sequencing by sending these samples to INSACOG Lab network that has been established to monitor the circulating variants in the country.

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